Evil eye belief I

“Evil eye is a fairly common folk belief complex, which is based on the idea that a male or female person has the power to – whether deliberately or inadvertently – cause harm to another person or their property with either a praise or just by looking at them.” (Alan Dundes, “Kes on rahvas “. Varrak, 2002:181) .

“I would not want to claim that all of the folk ideas or principles mentioned above are made [ … ] consciously. [ … ] I assume that these are the structural principles of the thoughts of the representatives of such cultures.” (Ibid, p 191)

Alan Dundes’ article “Evil Eye: Essay in Indo-European and Semitic worldview” is one of the few data carriers about this belief system, which is so widely spread and deeply rooted into our cultural memory. Paying no attention to the Freudian interpretations in that essay, we can find a set of rules which we follow on a daily basis, without even thinking about the fact that we are cultural carriers of an old religion. Anybody could be the holder and communicator of cultural memory.

Surprisingly, I have noticed that new knowledge about evil eye can be gained from both the young and the elderly, believers and nonbelievers, either upon request or by random occurrences. If you are able to add something to the two articles about evil eye, please add it as a comment.

  1. Pride. The victim’s wellbeing, good health and beautiful appearance may provoke an attack from the evil eye. Pride attracts evil eye. Infants, young children and brides are more prone to an attack from evil eye (Ibid , p 188).
  2. Symptoms. Under the influence of the evil eye, humans and other living beings either get sick, die or are otherwise misfortunate. The symptoms of diseases include loss of appetite, excessive yawning, hiccups (“someone talks about you” = someone is envious of you), vomiting and fever. The cow does not give milk, trees and plants will dry out. Inanimate objects will be broken or destroyed. (Ibid , p 181)
  3. Defense. Evil eye is prevented in two ways. Firstly, a preventive way – concealing anything that might cause jealousy. Secondly, a defensive way – wearing amulets, making special signs withs hands, drawing defensive symbols on items, spitting, using spells. For example, protective formulas could be recited before and/or after a praise. Protective symbols may be either breasts or genitals – symbols of vitality. (Ibid, p 181-182, 203)
  4. Appearance. Good appearance is being hidden (by wearing clothes which provide disguise, for example a veil). People smear themselves and others with dirt for the sake of protection. New clothes will be stained on purpouse. It is common for millionaires in Europe and America to wear rags. (Ibid, p 182)
  5. Spells. In Jewish culture, it is common to avoid a positive answer to the question “How are you doing?” A safe answer would be “Not bad” or “Cannot complain”. Before drinking, it is common to say “Cheers!” or any other toast. Before eating, it is common to say “Good appetite”. (Ibid, p 182, 192, 194)
  6. Treatment. If a case of the evil eye is discovered, it is necessary to find the owner, who is willingly or unwillingly damaging the victim. In some cases, the owner of evil eye is asked to spit in the face of the victim to initiate the recovery process. Evil eye is used by somebody who is envious, that’s why evil eye could also be called by the name of a jealous eye. Behind admiration can be jeallousy. Thus, a situation might arise where those influenced of evil eye will panic upon hearing praise. Controversely, nonbelievers would not understand, why nobody praises them. Freud suggests that the culprit of this kind of situation might not only be the one who is jealous but the one who they are jealous about – they are afraid of jealousy and they project the jealousy they would feel in the same situation on others. So if the victim would otherwise be guilty of hating the culprit without a reason, then now they have a reason behind it – jealousy. Throughout history, it has been a question of debate whether evil eye could be used as a weapon on purpouse or not. In addition, it is unknown whether somebody other than a human can possess it (a spirit, for example). (Ibid, p 182-189)
  7. The principle of limited benefits. Benefits are limited and, therefore, every individual benefits at the expense of another (Ibid, p 191-192). If someone is rich, it is at the expense of the poor. If someone is healthy, then another person has less strength and is more prone to diseases. If someone is beautiful, then they take away this benefit from somebody else. When a jealous person sees strong signs of vitality in somebody, then they undermine that vitality with their envy and/or any malicious intent. Some people have a greater tendency to use the evil eye, because they are used to getting benefits on the expense of others or they lack dreams of their own – they desire and take, what others value. (For comparison – some believe in an opposing theory called the currency. According to it, there benefits are unlimited – instead of being better than others, it is important to keep the benefits in circulation).
  8. Liquid. In evil eye beliefs, liquid is opposed to death, thus important in defecting and healing. It is common for Judaism and Christianity to talk about rivers of milk being in the paradise and that the hell is hot and dry. Life is water – receiving liquid means life and drying leads to death. Those searching for eternal life and youth searched for the fountain of eternal youth.(Ibid, p 191-192, 198, 223) In a Russian cartoon “Humpback foal”, czar wanted to bathe in different baths to get young and Ivan the Fool became a handsome prince in those baths.
  9. Drinking. To celebrate a victory, the community drinks together, because there is a chance of someone being jealous – liquid must be served with toast to prevent evil eye. Some nations and persons will be upset, if somebody refuses to drink for this kind of occasion. In some places, if somebody is suspected of using evil eye, they are served milk. (Ibid, p 192)
  10. Tipping. To make a waiter not be jealous of those who eat, they will recieve tips (in many languages the word is connected to liquids, in Estonian “jootraha”= drink + money). (Ibid, p 194-195) The cause of tipping is not only the fear of evil eye, though. There are at least 2 more reasons – to avoid taxes and to keep money in circulation – believing that if you give, you will recieve even more.
  11. Mother’s milk. Siblings rivalry for mother`s love might be a possible reason, why mother’s milk is an essential component to the evil eye beliefs. (Ibid, p 197)
  12. Eating. It is dangerous to eat in public places because there might be those, who are jealous of your food. To prevent evil eye, everybody present must eat. Some food could be concidered „toxic“ – in the marketplace, some people can see the food but cannot eat it and they will became jealous of it. When eating in public places, it is helpful to offer food to those who pass you by, even though these tend to be just formal invitations. The dinner phrase “Good appetite” could be interpreted as – “Continue eating, I’m not jealous of your meals”. (Ibid, p 193-194) Estonians have different traditions of offering food for those we call a “sant” – they could be either crippled, homeless, less rich or just neighbors walking around on certain days of the year (Christmas, St Martins day, on a sunday in church).
  13. Deceased. Because the deceased are thirsty, water containers are placed on graves. The deceased envy those who live (vampires want blood etc). (Ibid, p 198-199)
  14. Youth. The elderly envy the vitality of the youth. (Ibid, p 199)
  15. Spitting. On the one hand, the saliva is a liquid (a good thing), but on the other hand -spitting at other means to reduce their value and to make them less prone to be envied. For example, if someone praises a cute little child, the parent might ask them to spit on the child. (Ibid, p 201-202)
  16. Sailors. Sailors have tattoos of open eyes on their eyelids or chests, believing that these eyes are always awake, even if they are asleep. Eyes are also painted on both sides of a boat or a ship. (Ibid, p 203)
  17. The principle of “eye for an eye”. In Turkey, there are beliefs that people with blue eyes are more prone to having evil eye. To prevent damage made by them, people wore amulettes etc with symbols of blue eyes. (Ibid , p 210-211)
  18. The principle of “humiliation” . As mentioned previously, spitting helps against evil eye. Something similiar could be noted about showing somebody the middle finger – „I’m lowering your value so nobody would envy you“.
  19. Beliefs of evil eye can be used as an excuse for blaiming others. That explains why beliefs of the evil eye are not favoured in the society – nowadays, people are more interested in getting protection and less interested in blaming others.